Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ceisteanna (6)

Bobby Aylward


6. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the review and cost-benefit analysis of the regional veterinary laboratory in County Kilkenny which serves the farmers of the entire south-east region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51041/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

What is the status of the review and cost-benefit analysis of the regional veterinary laboratory in County Kilkenny, which serves the farmers of the entire south-east region? I have been raising this question for a long time and getting no answer.

My Department has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis, CBA, of options that have been proposed for the future development of the regional veterinary laboratories, RVLs. The team conducting the CBA includes internationally-recognised, independent experts in economic analysis and animal disease surveillance. I expect a report and recommendations to be presented to me in the near future. The focus of this review has been to secure and improve the service to the sector at best value to the taxpayer.

My Department completed an initial consultative process with all relevant stakeholders on the options for the RVLs during the course of last year and the consultants undertaking the CBA have also consulted with stakeholders. Any decision that is made on the RVLs will be informed by both those consultative processes and the outcome of the CBA.

I have been raising this issue since early 2017 and almost two years on it seems we are no closer to a decision on the six regional veterinary laboratories around the country which are under review. Meanwhile farming families are forced to operate under a cloud of uncertainty as we await the results of the cost benefit analysis the Minister commissioned, which has been going on for well over a year at this stage. There is huge concern in Kilkenny and elsewhere that the six remaining veterinary laboratories may be under threat of closure by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I remind the Minister that good farming practice, food quality and our branding in this regard will be damaged significantly by any reduction in service. In a written response to a parliamentary question I tabled on this issue in October the Minister stated: "Any decision that is made on the RVLs will be informed by both those consultative processes and the outcome of the CBA." He said that already today. Can the Minister give us a firm indication today of when he will finally make a decision on the RVLs and put this issue to bed once and for all?

The rationale for considering the regional veterinary laboratory structure and the cost benefit analysis is to make sure that what we have is fit for purpose. I envisage investment and not dismantling of services. The Deputy can rest easy. I am waiting for the advice on the roadmap but it is investment in these infrastructures we anticipate.

The Minister seems to be kicking this issue down the road for almost two years and he does not seem to be overly concerned. This is very important to the people of the south east. The laboratory in the south east serves Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Kilkenny-Carlow, Laois, Kildare and all the surrounding counties. We have these laboratories for a reason and for best practice in agriculture. They give a badly needed service to the farmers of this country. People in Kilkenny are worried about it closing, their jobs going and the lab being taken out of commission. We are trying to clarify for once and for all how it takes two years to produce a report. That seems incredible. How long does a report have to take and how long more before it is established that this laboratory is being kept in place for future good farming practice and young farmers? The sooner I get that answer the better.

I am trying to put the Deputy's mind at ease.

I would not be asking the question if it was at ease.

This €13 billion export-orientated industry is built on a quality production system that is verified in many instances through the regional veterinary laboratories. I felt it imperative to make sure that infrastructure was fit for purpose and if there is a requirement for investment that we have the appropriate targeted investment. I do not envisage dismantling the service, I envisage enhancing it.

Will the Minister guarantee no closures?

Did I not just tell the Deputy to put his mind at ease?

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers